How to Set Up Class iPad and iPod Devices

Being the pedantic amateur graphic designer that I am, my palms get sweaty when I think about how messy this post looks. The reason I’ve kept it this way is so you can see the journey, not just the non-existent end.

Originally posted Sept 2010.

Modified June 2011 (I have struckthrough ideas I’ve changed, and put in purple new ideas).

Modified Oct 2011 for iOS 5 update (I have struckthrough ideas I’ve changed, and put in green new ideas).

Modified (pink) May 2012 thanks to Bryan Hughes alerting me to Air Server.

Modified (orange) Sept 2012 thanks to Disp Recorder‘s release. Finally, a way to record your iPad screen in any app!

Modified (red) Jan 2013 thanks to Disp Recorder’s disappearance and other changes.

Modified (grey) Feb 2013 thanks to our class getting an Apple TV!

The Apple Fairy has come to your classroom and given you some iPads and/or iPod Touches to use for learning? You and your students sure are the lucky ones. I know what you’re thinking though: “So what now, technically speaking?” There are many different ways to set your iDevices up. Here is how I’ve done mine:

  1. Create a school/class iTunes account. It’s so much more coherent to have a dedicated iTunes account that does not mingle with your personal one.
  2. Dedicate one computer (ideally a Mac) to be the ‘mommy’ of the devices. Having personal apps/music/etc. mingle with your class ones is a recipe for confusion.
  3. Purchase enough USB hubs for multiple-device syncing. They are made by about a million different manufacturers, are sold in every electronics or computer store, and are very inexpensive. Here’s the one I got. Forget the hubs. My macbook can’t sync more than three at once.
  4. Sync each device individually for the first time and give each a unique name for identification purposes. I named our class devices ‘Hannah Montana’, ‘Justin Bieber’, ‘Harry Potter’, etc. It’s much better to name them ‘iPad 1’, ‘iPad 2’, etc.
  5. Use any drawing app to create number pictures (as you see in my photo above). Save them to the photo library of the device, then set them as wallpaper. Voila: internal labelling! This probably works better with primary students. My grade 7 students love organizing the apps themselves and changing wallpaper. Trying to label them this way is an invitation to mess it up. Let the kids do it.
  6. Whenever possible, download and install apps on the ‘mommy’. This way, they will automatically get installed on all the devices the next time you sync.
  7. Create a class GMAIL account to use for sending files, set the account up on all the devices, from any of the devices to wherever you need them to go. Students can learn to get into the habit of sharing and submitting work this way. Only problem with this is the blocking of ports in most schools. If you can find an email service that works (I haven’t yet), it’s such an important tool to have on the devices.
  8. Create a class dropbox account to share files to view on the devices. Essential.
  9. Finally, if you haven’t already updated your iOS to one which does not allow you to use, you may want to consider legally jailbreaking them for these reasons. Nah, forget this. Created more problems than anything.
  10. Set up Find my iPad/Pod in SETTINGS >> MAIL, CONTACTS, CALENDARS >> ADD ACCOUNT >> MOBILE ME >> iCLOUD Then use your iTunes iCloud account. This has already saved me once. One thing I’ve noticed is that Find my iPhone acts funny when you make the switchover from MobileMe to iCloud. Luckily, I double checked after doing it and noticed that none of our devices were being tracked. If this happens to you, do this very strange thing: 1) Check at if the tracking is actually working; 2) If not, remove/sign out of the iCloud accounts on the device(s); 3) re-add the MobileMe account and click the Find My iPhone feature to ‘ON’; 4) Remove the MobileMe account (I know, weird); 5) re-add the iCloud account and click the Find My iPhone feature to ‘ON’.
  11. Set up restrictions at SETTINGS >> GENERAL >> RESTRICTIONS. The ones I restrict in my class are app deletions, account changes, and explicit music/podcasts.
  12. Create folders on the ‘mommy’ computer for syncing photos, images, etc. from computer to iDevice. Then, in iTunes sync, go to the Photos tab at the top and indicate which folder you want to sync with. I do it through iPhoto using specific albums. For example, iPad 4 is synced with an album in iPhoto also called iPad 4. Then, whenever I want to upload photos to iPad 4, I stick the images in the iPad 4 album first. Hope that makes sense:-)
  13. So far, the only thing I am using iCloud syncing for is Find my iPad/iPod. This may change…
  14. I’ve been looking for an easy way to mirror our iOS devices’ screens on our class computer/projector and finally found one that a) actually works; and b) is easy. See my screencast below: 
  15. Finally, with Disp Recorder’s release, there’s a way to record your iPad screen in any app! Here’s me trying it out for the first time (on my iPhone 4S, because it didn’t work well at all on my iPad 1).
     It doesn’t capture animation very well, but everything else ain’t too bad.
  16. Oh no, Disp Recorder is gone, and I don’t know why!
  17. Put wallpaper design apps (there are so many free ones) on your devices. This encourages students to use these wallpapers, rather than random, gross, and ridiculous ones they find from Safari.
  18. Long ago I decided not to care about organizing the apps into folders or specific locations. It is impossible to control this with my middle school students, and I have learned that it is also unnecessary on a shared device.

Apple TV

It took me a long time to be convinced to request an Apple TV in my class. I didn’t see the need at the time, and, to be frank, I felt a bit guilty about getting more ‘toys’ in our classroom. There’s no question that there is a disproportionate amount of technology in classes; I didn’t want it any more exacerbated. Plus, we were using Air Server (as described above) – theoretically, an Apple TV alternative. Let’s just say I’ve changed my tune. 

Apple TV is far better for me because the MacBook I was using for Air Server had a lot of difficulty coping with mirroring from a memory, processing, and graphics standpoint. Mirrors would frequently go caput, and my laptop would often go into what I call temper tantrum mode. With Apple TV, we have no such issues. It even has a brilliant password system where you can set a random four-digit code to appear every time someone new wants to mirror. This completely squashes the potential of folks outside the room playing pranks on our class (mirroring music or content from other parts of the building).

These days, at any given time, we can mirror anyone’s iOS device or laptop (thanks to Air Parrot), sound included. We don’t associate being in front of the room with necessarily being in front of the room. I’ve anecdotally observed that the students that most request to mirror their device to show their work or thinking happen to be students who I didn’t think felt comfortable presenting in class.

I was going to make an instructional video or sheet on setting it up, but it’s really the most googlable thing there is. In fact, it’s the extent to which it is ‘plug ‘n’ play that makes it so beautiful.


  1. Thanks Royan
    I like the idea of the number image labelling ! I will have to explore the other links in more details … I am not sure if we will have ipods /pads this year yet …

    1. Wow! I need to come and actually see you use technology in your classroom. Do you have many of these requests? I am a grade 3 teacher who has been walking outside my comfort zone in the world of technology this year. I have been experimenting with different apps and tools and many of my students have been bringing in their own devices…but I would love to observe a class that integrates tech the way you do. Let me know if this is even a possibility.

    1. Working with our board’s Literacy@School network of open classrooms. Sometimes I wonder if I would love my job as much as I do without it.

      1. I definitely believe my Literacy@School role is what gives me energy and provides so many opportunities for new learning. It is definitely one of the reasons I love my job.

  2. Ooh… how exciting! Your students are so extremely lucky to have you as their teacher!

    I’ve just got my 1 iPad, and am hoping to help me with assessment using Evernote. Do you have any other ideas on this?

  3. Thanks for the step by step guide. I used Doodle Pad to stamp out pictures and number each of my iPods. That is a brilliant step in organizing the iPads. I’m wondering how long it will take for my students to change the wallpaper and mess up this system.
    I really need to get a connector, syncing the pads one at a time is a drag.

    My question, why is it that I unwrap the iPad and already I have a software update? I’m wondering how often the software will require updating, that took a long time to do with each one.

    I truly appreciate your time. I marvel at how I can ask a question or state a frustration and you are quickly online designing steps for me to follow. You are a true guide on the side! Thanks Royan!


  4. I have 4 Ipads coming as part of a grant. How do I set up a class Itunes account that does NOT have a credit card attached to it?

    1. You can register an iTunes account without associating a credit card by ‘purchasing’ a free app. When you do that, one of the payment options is ‘none’.

  5. I also numbered my class set of iPods and it has worked wonderful-even when they get misplaced the students turn them on and that is the first thing they see.

  6. Hey Royan,

    I’ve been talking about your project with anyone who’ll listen.

    Thanks for taking the time to explain the technical side above. I’ll keep checking back to learn about all the nifty learning opportunities you’re giving your students in class.

    Way to go…


  7. Just got my ipad! In fact, a class set of them. I am a true novice. Other than dealing with apps on my droid, I know nothing. How can I set the numbers as wallpaper on ipads?

  8. Hi everyone, my classroom is receiving 16 iPads and I’m researching ways to mass sync and secure them. Any suggestions?


    1. Try using the app apple configurator for mass syncing of apps to iPads. For storage consider the apple charging station

  9. So if you have 20x iPads you only need to purchase an app once in order to have it on all your iPads? If so, that seems a bit unfair for the app developers.

    1. Steve,
      No that is not the case, you are required to purchase one copy per device . this has always been the case, but apple clarified it in August 2010 when they release the volume purchase program that lets schools purchase multiple copies (

      Jim Siegl

  10. Hi Royan,
    Have you found a way to network the iPads so that you can monitor student work and/or display their work by projecting it on the board?

    1. You can do that with iPad 2s now through the VGA cord. In terms of seeing their screens remotely, I’m not really interested in that.

  11. Thanks for sharing! I am just starting this process now for 30ipads. I’m lucky we bought 3 ipad charging/syncing trays. I just need to initially set up each one and then they will all sync at same time. Thanks goodness 🙂 any luck on the email thing? How do you get student creations off? I think we might have a solution where the port is opened up for out going mail (with restrictions of course), but we’re still working on it… And by “we”, I mean awesome people/colleagues waaaaay smarter than I! 🙂

  12. In regards to step 3, you say that your MacBook can’t sync more than 3 iPads at once. This isn’t accurate – with certain products your Mac can sync up to 49 iPads at once! Consider checking out – they have devices that let you easily sync, charge, organize, and secure however many iPads you want to use in the classroom. It makes the process much easier!

  13. Thanks so much for posting! We are moving in a similar directions so your insights are extremely helpful. We will share about 20 iPads between 6 teachers so organizational thoughts are always welcome.

  14. Probably a silly question but I am not used to ITunes – so do you install one ITunes and create one account (on mummy computer) and use that to initialise and snych all IPads? We will have 20 IPad2’s.

  15. You hinted at this in step 5….if you want all the iPads to have the same ‘image’ (same organized folders on the same pages, etc.) then you might want to:
    1) Make sure all the other iPads have the apps you want students to use by syncing them (first sync can take a while).
    2) Organize one of the iPads (say iPad#1) the way you want and backup/sync it.
    3) Choose restore from backup individually for the rest of the iPads (control click on the iPad in the iTunes sidebar on a mac) but select the backup of the organized iPad (iPad #1 in this example).

    The resulting iPads will have the same organization (if that’s what you want).

    As a side note, they will also temporarily have the same name, wallpaper, etc. as well. You can change the name quickly in the iTunes sidebar by clicking on the device….I find this setup saves time and leans towards uniformity..if that’s what you want..

    Backing up the iPads stores the settings and app data but not the actual apps themselves (or the iPad’s firmware so this technique won’t work for upgrading to iOS 5 for example)


    1. Colin,

      Thanks for this info. It has been hard to find as most info deals with syncing and I am interested in creating an “image” like you mentioned. Because this takes about 5 minutes to do, plus you have to go back and change the wallpaper, email adress… is this really the best/most efficient way. I want use my “ipod1” to set up the layout on the apps, determine which apps are on there, set wireless keys… and then push that out to all the other ipods in a simultaneous plug in of USB cord. Am I asking for too much. Most of the info I find on the web is with older itunes (im using 11) or talks about syncing, which I think is different than what I want. Thanks for your help!

  16. Wow!!!!!

    Can I hire you for an afternoon to set up my iPads?!!!!!!!! I’ll even pay for your supply 😉

    PS Thanks for syncing my calendar on all my i-devices. My husband says I am so year 2000 now.

  17. Thank you for creating this wonderful resource! Once you have the wallpaper set they way you want it (with numbered backgrounds), how do you prevent your students from changing it?

    1. I don’t do the wallpaper thing anymore. I let the students do whatever they want the wallpaper. It’s one of those things that seemed important at the time and isn’t at all in practice.

      1. I still do the wallpaper thing and it works very well in primary. The advices need to be numberedmso the students can complete their work. For example if they are doing a Puppet Pals story it might take several days and they need to be in the correct iDevice to finish it. I find in grade two and three when they take their numbered covers off they get mixed up so the numbers and photos on the wall paper become very important.

        We have a discussion about settings and the importance of respecting the iDevices. My students don’t change the wallpaper because they understand the purpose behind it.

  18. Thanks so much for amending your list after putting everything into practice. Genius suggestions; we’ve all benefited from your experience and insight.

    Any tips on cost-effective and relatively elegant charging solutions for 20 iTouches?

    1. It seems like iPod Touch devices aren’t catered to too much for mass use. I’ve never hear of a charging doc for a bunch of them. I guess you’ll just have to get some power bars and chargers:(

      1. I use ipod touches in my kindergarten class- 29 kids- We have a box that looks like a suitcase that can charge and sync 20 at a time. I do have to unplug and replug the other 9 but it is pretty easy.

  19. I am transitioning into the LMS and have 20+ ipads, what is the best way to charge them as I am really hoping to use them all soon with classes.

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